It’s hard to let go


It’s a sin that most cooks are guilty of committing – buying an unusual herb or spice, using it once (if at all), then leaving it in the spice drawer or cabinet, neglected. A recent study by kitchen electronics company Kenwood shines some light on just how much this happens, at least in Britain. It turns out that Brits keep a whopping £240m worth of unused herbs and spices sitting in their kitchens.

Thirteen percent of the Britons admitted to having herbs or spices that are more than four years old. The study also found that the “average homeowner has 10 different herbs and spices in the kitchen, with the four most-used being basil, chilli, oregano and coriander.” Kenwood’s trade marketing manager, Seb Goff, said the company was surprised by the response. “We know Brits continually embrace new flavours and cuisines, but it seems we’re not confident enough to experiment with them in our own homes.”

I suspect that the answers to this survey downplay the extent of herb hoarding. It would be interesting to see how these results stack up against cupboards in other countries, although they would probably be similar. The most popular herbs and spices might be different, however–it seems unlikely that coriander would top the list in the United States.

I count myself among the guilty when it comes to holding on to old spices. While I have good intentions about cleaning out the spice drawer, although I balk when it comes down to actually throwing the unused stuff in the waste bin. How about you? Are your spices fresh or do you have holdovers languishing in your cupboards too?

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  • Laura  on  November 21, 2014

    "The average homeowner has 10 different spices in the kitchen." Wow, I have 8 times that amount! I'm definitely above-average! Also, I label every spice jar with the date I opened it. If it hasn't been used up after a year, the spice goes in the trash — sometimes sooner, depending on the spice. The jar, however, is washed and re-purposed.

  • darcie_b  on  November 21, 2014

    My overflowing spice drawers indicate that I am above average in the number of spices too. I should go through my drawers this weekend and purge everything that I haven't used in a while. I wouldn't wager on it actually happening, though.

  • Margaretsmall  on  November 21, 2014

    I did a purge only last week, the oldest spice was dated 1996. Guess it was something I don't use much!

  • imaluckyducky  on  November 21, 2014

    *looks at 2-year old bag of sumac bought with such good intentions* Harumph. *throws away* *cries*

  • Cubangirl  on  November 21, 2014

    I just placed a Penzeys order yesterday. When I checked to see if I had bought some things in the last order, I realized I had bought some, in 2006 lol. When the order arrives I'll do a purge. With Penzeys, the really old stuff is easy to find since it is in smaller plastic jars. The ones I use regularly, I buy in bags and freeze and refill the jars. The seeds I know I won't use often go directly in the freezer. BTW, I too have way more than 10.

  • Christine  on  November 21, 2014

    I too am a spice hoarder, I must admit. My biggest problem is seeing an unusual spice while out shopping, remembering I saw a recipe calling for it, but then not remembering which recipe! Even if I do remember the recipe (or find it with EYB's help), I don't always end up making it, but I still can't resist picking up more new spices when I find them — always with the best of intentions.

    I see the advice to toss spices after 6 months or a year all the time and can't bring myself to follow it. I don't see the sense in throwing out a spice if it still smells fragrant to me. Spices do lose potency over time and if I feel they have lost their flavor, I will throw them out, but I won't follow an arbitrary (in my opinion) length-of-time rule.

  • hillsboroks  on  November 21, 2014

    I am so guilty of spice hoarding like most of the rest of you! If it still smells good I can't bear to throw it away. I know I need to go through and do a major clean out. But I think I probably have the record for one old spice can. I don't use the celery seeds in it to cook with anymore (it is from the 1970s) but we discovered many years ago that it was the perfect height to prop up the handle of our large Calaphon frying pan that had warped and wouldn't sit level on a burner.

  • TrishaCP  on  November 23, 2014

    Nothing is more alluring to me than spices-I really can't resist them at all! I buy them as fresh as possible (specialty spice shops), preferably in whole form, and in the smallest quantities possible and as a result I find they generally last much longer than the 6-12 month rule, except for herbs and pre-ground cardamom. (Christine, I do the sniff test too.) I store whole spices and herbs in the freezer (except vanilla)- I am sure that is supposedly "wrong" but it seems to work ok for me.

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